When we think of biblical lands, the nation of Turkey, which straddles Europe and Asia, rarely comes to mind. Yet as a major center for the early Church, this ancient land is home to many sites sacred to the Christian faith. Two-thirds of the books in the New Testament were either written in Asia Minor (an older term for the Asian portion of Turkey) or were addressed to communities there. The apostles John, Paul and Peter lived, preached and prayed in Asia Minor, while the seven churches of the Book of Revelation (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea) are located on or near Turkey’s Aegean coast.
Of all these sites, Ephesus is most famous, both as one of Christianity’s great pilgrimage sites as well as the location of some of the best-preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the Mediterranean. The apostle Paul did missionary work in Ephesus, and an early Church tradition says that the apostle John and the Virgin Mary lived there in the last decades of their lives. A well-traveled friend gave me an additional reason to visit there: “Ephesus is a place of sacred mystery,” she had told me. “Once you visit, you’ll know why I long to return there.”